By Rich Bailin, ProWrestling.net Contributor (@RichBailin)
Last night my eight-year-old son and I attended the ROH Best in The World PPV based out of Chesapeake Employers Insurance Arena in Baltimore (locally and in Google maps it’s still just the UMBC Arena). Here are some thoughts on the experience.
First off, I should say neither myself or my son have really watched ROH on television. I have been to many ROH shows but this was just my son’s second. His first was the Free Enterprise show pre pandemic some 15-16 months ago.
We arrived at around 5:15 as doors opened around 6:00. The first thing I saw to let me know I was back to in person wrestling in Maryland was the appearance of Liger Guy. He has been a staple of Maryland wrestling for years and I cannot recall a show I have been to that he has not. Before they let everyone in, Mandy Leon came out to see the crowd that was beginning to form. I felt a little bad for her as she tried to start an ROH chant but it didn’t last very long.
Once they let everyone in, my son wanted to check out the merch table which was very disappointing. There were a total of six different t-shirt designs, some ROH masks, DVD’s, hats, stickers and pop sockets, and they also had the ROH wrestling buddies. The wrestling buddy was all my son wanted initially, but at $60 each (and with the abundance of AEW figures he had received in the last week) that was not happening. Eventually, I convinced my son to get an ROH BITW t-shirt, but by the time he agreed to it they were all sold out. Very disappointing.
I have been to many ROH shows since they started to run in Baltimore and found the vibe to be very different. Understandably, there were no meet and greets. Cary Silkin and Joe Koff were walking around welcoming fans back like they usually do.
When we got to our seats, the arena was just starting to fill up. You could see that the ringside seats were separated into pods and that is how we ordered our tickets. I was sitting directly in front of and below the hard camera and no one was seated next to me or my son on either side. So just like the ROH bubble, ROH should also get kudos for managing to separate all the seating into pods.
Also, the ringside area was separated from the fans. Pre Covid fans would be right up against the barrier, banging on it and cheering. This time the ringside area was closed off then a few feet of empty space with another barrier closing that part off. Fans were seated behind the second barrier. I’d say the attendance was somewhere around 1,200 to 1,500 and that was by design and not due to lack of ticket sales. I also think this was an ROH decision and not a Maryland State Athletic Board decision as Maryland is basically open with no restrictions. I did not see mask wearing being enforced but there were still plenty of people wearing them.
Before I get to the matches, I just wanted to make a general statement about the crowd. I was very surprised at just how quiet we were. As I said earlier, I have been to many ROH shows and this was overall the quietest crowd I have been a part of.
Demonic Flamita vs. Rey Horus. A good opening match reminiscent of the cruiserweight matches from WCW to get the crowd going. I’m not sure if it aired, but after the match when Flamita attacked Horus, a few attendants ran out with ice packs and my son thought it was the funniest thing and didn’t understand the need for them.
Kenny King received a good reaction until he switched to heel mode. He went for the basic heat talking about the Ravens and how we can’t beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but that fell kind of flat, as we only play Tampa once every four years or in a Super Bowl, and everyone knows no one plays a Tom Brady led team better than the Ravens.
As video packages played for the home audience, the ring was set up for the Trending with Taven segment. Once the light went up on the ladder, I figured someone was going through it. I liked everything about Vincent’s entrance. He just comes across differently than everyone on the ROH roster. The segment was confusing at parts, especially Vincent wanting a title match instead of Taven’s career. But by the end of the night, I couldn’t help but feel this segment would have been better served on the main PPV card just to break up the matches.
PCO and Danhausen vs. The Bouncers. PCO and especially Danhausen were probably the most over people in the building. I unfortunately missed their entrance as my son decided he wanted Rita’s Italian Ice just prior to the match. Danhausen is taller in person than I thought. The match itself was fun but the end was a bit confusing with Sledge confronting PCO.
Jay and Mark Briscoe vs. Brian Johnson and P.J. Black. An okayy match to start the PPV. Hindsight being 20/20, this could have been better slotted as a pre-show match instead of being the opening match of the PPV. I get the feeling there are not many people who want to see the Briscoes starting over from the beginning.
EC3 vs. Flip Gordon. This match may have been doomed from the start. It started with both of their slower sounding entrance themes and slow walks to the ring. We just weren’t into this match at all until the end before Flip spit in EC3’s face.
Shane Taylor Promotions vs. Dalton Castle, Dak Draper and Eli Isom for the ROH Six-Man Tag Titles. After the entrances, this was my son’s bathroom break match and also when we found out the ROH BITW t-shirt was sold out. I don’t have much to say about this match as we missed most of it.
Josh Woods vs Silas Young in a Last Man Standing match. An okay LMS match that was a bit too short to be anything special. Woods was booed pretty loudly when he placed the two tables next to each other instead of stacking them one top of another as the crowd wanted. Of course, that changed to cheers when they went through the tables.
Brody King vs. Jay Lethal. This was when things started to pick up from the crowd. I didn’t understand why Lethal and wrestlers in general wear singlets just to lower the straps two minutes in, but whatever, not overly important. Brody going over was the right call and it seems ROH has a grasp on how to book him going forward that they didn’t before.
Jonathan Gresham vs. Mike Bennett ROH Pure Championship match. A good match that the crowd was just not into for whatever reason. Maybe it was just the Pure concept of the match or lack of crowd endurance but there were just a lot of quiet moments in the arena. I did get caught with the false finish as from my vantage point we did not see Gresham grab the ropes. Again, a well worked match that didn’t get the response it deserved.
At this point if my memory serves things started to get a little confusing in the arena, as the lights came up and it seemed like they were going to go to an intermission. Instead, we got the backstage segment with The Foundation adding Gresham to the ROH Tag title match.
Tony Deppen vs. Dragon Lee for the ROH TV Title. The crowd started to get back into things with this match. It may have been the most hard-hitting match of the night. My son, who loves all wrestlers who wear masks or face paint, was really happy with the title change.
Jonathan Gresham and Rhett Titus vs. Chris Dickinson and Homicide in a Fight Without Honor for the ROH Tag Titles. A hard hitting match the crowd enjoyed, but that is usually the case when tables and weapons are involved. We enjoyed the title change as well.
Before the main event we got the announcement of the brackets of the ROH Women’s Championship tournament and the introduction of Chelsea Green. This was probably the biggest surprise of the night, but I mistakenly thought she was over her arm injury. She received a very favorable reaction from the crowd.
Rush vs Bandido for the ROH World Championship. So, when I brought my son to his first ROH show, the one item of merchandise he wanted back then was a Bandido Micro brawler. So, it was a bit funny to see him in the world title match at my son’s second ROH show. My son and the crowd were very happy with the title change. To me, it came across as a bit of a fluke as Rush dominated most of this match. We could have done without the beatdown after the match, as it wasn’t even that bad of one. That portion just felt unnecessary and the crowd would have enjoyed Bandido celebrating a lot more.
Overall, though, it was nice to get back into an arena for a live wrestling show. My son wants to come to ROH now every time they are in town so in that aspect it was a win. But I think part of the problem with the crowd responses is there is no one really on the roster you want to completely boo out of the building and there is no real face of the organization to completely cheer either. ROH made some strides in those aspects last night, but they aren’t there yet.
The match of the night was the Pure Championship match. The title changes and the Chelsea Green surprise made it a worthwhile show. The lack of crowd support did hurt the overall presentation though. Maybe next time they are in Baltimore they can add more fans and that crowd response will change. No return date was mentioned unless I missed it.
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